Families of victims of fatal Texas festival crash sue organizers

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 19, 2014 4:11 AM

(Reuters) - Families of the victims and survivors of a fatal March crash outside the popular South by Southwest festival in Austin sued the organizers on Thursday, according to court documents and local media.

Four people died at this year's event when a 21-year-old motorist plowed into crowds of festival-goers over the space of several hundred yards as he fled a sobriety checkpoint.

Lizzy Plug, the widow of Steven Craenmehr from Amsterdam in the Netherlands, filed a wrongful death suit in a federal Texas court, arguing that festival operators should have foreseen the possibility of the fatal car crash.

The complaint pointed to the over 500 arrests for public drunkenness and drunk driving during the past five years of the event, saying organizers should have implemented more traffic precautions.

"A festival organizer and a traffic design consultant of ordinary intelligence would have anticipated the danger," the complaint said.

"If SXSW had adhered to industry standards and utilized adequate traffic control measures, Steven Craenmehr would be alive today," it added.

Local broadcaster KVUE reported that lawsuits were filed on Thursday on behalf of eight other people who were caught up in the crash.

Texas residents Jamie West, Sandy Thuy Le and DeAndre Tatum, along with Craenmehr all died and some two dozen people were injured after being hit by the car that was driven by Rashad Charjuan Owens.

In a statement to KVUE, South by Southwest organizers called the crash a tragedy, but placed the blame on Owens.

"What happened on Red River was a terrible tragedy, caused by Rashad Owen's utter disregard of human life. Our hearts continue to ache for those injured and the families of those who lost their lives. We look forward to his prosecution for his awful crimes," the statement said.

Owens was charged with 20 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, along with capital murder charges. Each assault count can bring up to life in prison, while a conviction on capital murder carries the possibility of the death penalty.

South by Southwest, which ran from March 7-16, began as a music event in 1987. It features technology conferences, a film festival and music shows that draw tens of thousands of people to the Texas capital each year.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Crispian Balmer)